Marines react to discovery of sunken tank, remains off California coast


OCEANSIDE, Calif. (KSWB) — Family and service members were in mourning Tuesday after the military found remains of missing servicemen and the amphibious assault vehicle that sank off the coast of San Clemente Island. “I felt for the family. I can’t imagine to have my brother in that sort of situation,” said Marine veteran Evan Leal.

Seven Marines and a Navy sailor were missing after the 26-ton landing craft sank last week. Another Marine was pronounced dead at the scene and seven others were rescued.

Leal knows the family of fallen Pfc. Bryan Baltierra and launched a GoFundMe page to help the family.

“As a Marine, I just felt like I had to do something to take some sort of responsibility, more than just sending my thoughts and prayers,” Leal said.

The Marines say the amphibious assault vehicle sank to a depth of 385 feet after it began taking on water during a routine training exercise. The Navy plans to place equipment near the vehicle and begin recovering the remains. 

Marine veteran Rick Noda described training in the AAVs during Desert Storm. “[There] is a steel shut door. I mean literally, when that door closes, it seals, so when you jump into the water all you hear is the heat, diesel and the smell and we used to think floating coffin because if one thing goes wrong, it goes right to the ground,” Noda said.

USMC Commandant Gen. David Berger has ordered the inspection of all AAVs across the fleet.  “I’ve directed an immediate suspension of amphibious assault vehicle water operations until the causal factors of this mishap are better understood,” Berger said.

Noda hopes recovering the AAV and bodies can bring the families some closure. “As a military veteran, the closure that the family gets to see the actual body is something that — I told my wife the minute it happened — that I hope they find the bodies because you need to hold, even though it is passed away, that closure is super important,” Noda said.

President Donald Trump tweeted his prayers for the families of the fallen servicemen. “I am deeply saddened by the tragic loss of eight Marines and one Sailor during a training exercise off the coast of California,” he said. “Our prayers are with their families. I thank them for the brave service their loved ones gave to our Nation.”

Two other Marines are hospitalized in critical but stable condition. On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered flags flown at half staff in honor of the fallen.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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